With a capital T; that rhymes with P; that stands for Police State. Recently our congresscritters and president decided to beef up and update the laws regarding violence against women, including harassment and stalking. Of course, they added in a few additional riders that had little or nothing to do with the purpose of the bill (new ATF and Postal Service rules are included). However, under section 113 under the heading ‘Preventing Cyberstalking’ is an unfortunately worded new law that could get many of us on the internet thrown in jail for doing nothing more than what I am doing right now.
The text of this new section of law is:
“Whoever…utilizes any device or software that can be used to originate telecommunications or other types of communications that are transmitted, in whole or in part, by the Internet… without disclosing his identity and with intent to annoy, abuse, threaten, or harass any person…who receives the communications…shall be fined under title 18 or imprisoned not more than two years, or both.”
Note the word ‘annoy’. Now, most of us can understand abuse, threaten or harass. Those are clear violations of an individual’s rights. However, because I write on this blog and do not disclose my identity I am now violating this law if I write anything that might ‘annoy’ President Bush, PETA, Howard Dean or Jerry Falwell. If I find out some issue that I want to rail about and post a few articles on, if these articles are found to ‘annoy’ these people, because I have chosen not to disclose my identity I can be fined and face up to two years in prison.
The even more interesting thing is that this law originally did not have the ‘annoy’ phrase in it. When it first passed the house in September, the phrase was ‘substantial emotional harm’. Again, that’s a much more reasonable use of this law. So why was it changed? Why was it changed in such a manner to be ‘sneaked in’ before it was voted upon?
Now, this is a clear violation of our constitutional rights. The first amendment is clear and if it isn’t the Supreme Court has been very clear that legally we can simply annoy people, and we can do so anonymously. It’s not good enough to direct the Justice Department to ‘simply ignore’ the offending section of law, much like President Clinton did when some sections of the telecommunications law concerning abortion material was made public. The simple fact is we don’t know who will come into office next and decide to revive that section of law in an attempt to silence critics.
In fact, we don’t know if that wasn’t the intent all along.
I’m afraid that I now have to either stand on my convictions that this law is unconstitutional and continue to post my articles anonymously as I have been doing for many years or I have to release in my bio my real name so that I will no longer be said to be ‘annoying’ anyone without presenting my identity.
Let’s see how this drama plays itself out over the next few months together, shall we?